Trista Sarles-Redfield wished for two things from Santa this year.
The first was a dolphin. Her second wish was for her daddy to come home.
On Jan. 17, Trista's wish came true.
"I'm really happy he's home," the Dunedin Elementary fourth-grader told reporters after he surprised her with a bouquet of pink-tipped roses in her classroom Thursday morning.
Trista's father, a U.S. soldier stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, had just returned from a year-long deployment in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
He actually hid in the closet while his daughter got ready for school Thursday morning so he wouldn't spoil the surprise he had planned.
"She actually came into my bathroom with her hair brush and all kinds of different stuff and she didn't even glance at the closet," her mother Amanda Redfield said.
Trista thought he was coming home Friday. She received the surprise of a lifetime when he appeared, in uniform, over her shoulder while sitting with her classmates on the carpet listening to a story about Martin Luther King Jr.
She instantly got up and wrapped her arms around his waist. (Watch the entire surprise on video.)
"She was going to cry," her mother said. "I saw her tearing up and she had to catch herself."
After the surprise, they were able to spend some time together catching up over a lunch tray in the cafeteria.
"They have their own little secrets, their own little codes and things," Trista's mother said as she watched them eating and chatting together.
Although he isn't her biological father, Trista, 9, has known him as Daddy for the past five years, her mother said.
"This recent Christmas he wasn't here and I was kinda sad because he wasn't here," Trista said.
"Wait, Trissy, 16 to 18 months we get to keep him," her mother said. "Which means this year, we get Christmas!"
"Yay," Trista uttered softly, as she leaned into her father's side.
Trista grew about four inches while he was overseas.
She's finally tall enough to ride The ShieKra, a floorless dive roller coaster at Busch Gardens.
"We're definitely going," her mother said.
- Deployed Dad Surprises Daughter at Dunedin Elementary
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